Ralph Borsodi's Advice
For Surviving Economic Disaster
(Part 3)

Dateline: 10 April 2017

Ralph Borsodi (1955)
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This essay is part of a series about Ralph Borsodi and his book, "Inflation is Coming And What to Do About It." Click Here to go to the beginning of this series.


Who Is Ralph Bordsodi?
(excerpts from the book)

Ralph Borsodi was not only a brilliant self-educated economist who warned of the Great Depression, he was a visionary who put his economic and social ideas into practice.

One of Borsodi's passions (closely tied to economics and inflation) was creating intentional communities of like-minded people on land where they could live a lifestyle of self-reliance. The land was held by a non-profit corporation. People leased their section of land but owned (and could sell) their homes and places of business that were on the land. 

Ralph Borsodi's experiments in creating such communities were an important part of the evolution of what are now called community land trusts

But I think that some of what passes as a community land trust these days is not what Borsodi had in mind. His vision was not so much to preserve land from development, but to create genuine communities of people who shared a common, land-based lifestyle and ethic. They were not communes. They were communities. There is a big difference.

It is worth understanding more about Borsodi's thinking when it came to these communities, and he provided some foundational insights in his 1974 Mother Earth News interview. Here are a few pertinent questions and answers from that interview...

Question: I think I should point out for our readers that when you speak of "homesteading," you're actually talking about the founding of self-sufficient communities ... rather than splendidly isolated little farms. 

Borsodi: Yes. I'm certainly not an advocate of what happened almost only in the United States . . . and almost entirely only in the U.S. Mid and Far West. When that part of our country was settled, see, it was done under the original Homestead Act. This legislation allowed you to locate on 160 acres — a quarter section of land — and gain title to the property merely by sticking it out and living there for four years. So what this did, of course, was to sprinkle our West with literally millions of people living on isolated homesteads. And back in those days, when you only had horses with which to travel, you might not see your neighbors for days. You went to town probably once a week if you went that often. Now this kind of living is just as unnatural as packing people like sardines into the boxes of New York City. Man is a gregarious animal. He's not supposed to live in isolation. He should actually live in a community, but a community does not necessarily have to be a city. There's all the evidence in the world that the building of cities is one of the worst mistakes that mankind has ever made: For both physical and mental health we've got to be close to Mother Earth.

Question: So where does that leave us? 

Borsodi: The normal way to live — and I've discussed this endlessly in my books — is in a community of what I call "optimum size." Not too large and not too small. A place where, when you walk down the road, everyone says, "Good morning" . . . because everyone knows you.

Question: And that's the kind of community you decided to establish after you left Dayton? 

Borsodi: Yes, and I immediately saw that the center of such a community should be a school where everyone — not just the children — could study the most enormously important subject of all — the philosophy of living. I think that philosophy, as it's taught in the academic world, is a completely meaningless discipline. Philosophy as a way of living, on the other hand, is just enormously important. Abraham Lincoln once said that the future of America depends upon teaching people how to make a good living from a small piece of land. Now this is the technology we must study . . . how to make a good living — not just a Spartan existence, but a good living — on a small piece of land.

Question: I suppose you began your new community, then, with one of these schools? 

Borsodi: Yes. I established a School of Living back in Rockland County, N.Y., during the winter of 1934 to '35. Before long about 20 families began coming out regularly from New York City to spend the weekends at this school. How they scraped up the money to get there I don't know. It was the middle of the depression, you see, and some of these people didn't have any source of income. I remember when we got ready to commence building our first community. I told them, "I'll begin if there are enough of you who will put up a little money with which to start." Do you know how much those 20 families could raise? Two hundred dollars. The whole batch of them. They laid the money on the table and I gave them receipts for it and that's all there was. It was up to me to go out and find a way to buy the land we needed.

Question: I believe you make a similar distinction when it comes to the ownership of property? 

Answer: I very carefully divide the possessions of mankind into two categories: one I call "property" and the other "trusterty". Now property, by definition, is anything which can be owned . . . legally owned. But you know there are some things that can be legally — but not morally — owned. For instance, slaves used to be legally owned. The statutes of our states and the Constitution of the United States made it legal to own human beings . . . but no amount of legalizing made it moral. I feel the same way about the natural resources of the earth. When you make something with your own labor you have, so to speak, frozen your labor into that thing. This is the way in which you create a moral title to that thing, by producing it. You can sell it to somebody else and, in return for what he pays you, you can give him your moral title to whatever it is. But no man created the earth or its natural resources. And no man or government has a moral title to the earth's ownership. If it is to be used, and we have to use it in order to live, then it has to be treated as a trust. We have to hold the earth in trust. We can enjoy the fruit of the land or of a natural resource, but the land or the resource itself must be treated as a gift. A man who uses the land is a trustee of that land and he must take care of it so that future generations will find it just as good, just as rich, as when he took possession of it. A trustee is entitled to a return for administering his trust . . . but he must never destroy the trust itself. The moment you lay down this simple moral principle, of course, you make ducks and drakes of our existing method of treating the natural resources of the earth. The history of America is just one gigantic land exploitation . . . and very few people realize that this creates exactly the conditions which make individuals — in desperation — turn to socialism and communism. So long as land is available as the ultimate resource to which you can turn to support yourself, nobody can exploit you. It's only when all the land is expropriated by speculators or by people who are living on it that it's impossible to turn to the earth as the ultimate source of employment. Not everyone has to be a farmer, of course, but so long as land is available to those who want to work it we'll have none of the desperate unemployment that finally led Marx to propose communism as the solution to the problems that capitalism has created.

Question: But we've never done that in this country. As a matter of fact, few — if any — cultures have.

Borsodi: Well, let me put it this way: The only worthwhile histories that have ever been written have been histories of civilizations. Histories of single nations are what Napoleon called a "lie agreed upon." National histories just aggrandize the story of a country. Histories of civilizations, though, are something different. Toynbee, you know, has written an account of 21 civilizations . . . and the interesting point about them is that every one of them died. As Toynbee explained it — and he does in historical terms — they were challenged by some problem, some crisis. Toynbee called these confrontations "times of troubles" . . . and if the civilization wasn't equal to the challenge, the whole thing simply collapsed. Now this is what we face. Have you ever heard of Spengler and his big book, The Decline of the West? Well it made a tremendous sensation when it appeared, because he predicted exactly what is taking place today. Spengler's thesis is that what every civilization seems to do is to pile up all the wealth and all the health in big cities . . . where they finally decay. And then there's a collapse and an overwhelming population decline and the people who are left are forced back to the land. Now it seems tragic to me that we do not listen to men like Toynbee and Spengler. They've shown us what can happen. We now know . . . and, instead of waiting for a crash to drive us to a better way of living, we should use all the wits we've got — all the technology we've got — to develop that sort of living before the coming collapse takes place.

One quote from Borsodi's comments stands out to me: "So long as land is available as the ultimate resource to which you can turn to support yourself, nobody can exploit you."


That right there is part of the reason Thomas Jefferson advocated (after America's independence from Great Britan) that this country reject the European industrial model and embrace the wisdom of maintaining an agrarian Republic, as I explain in my essay titled, The Jeffersonian Solution.

Well, that's enough of Ralph Borsodi's decentralist and agrarian philosophy to chew on for now. In my next installment of this series, I'll tell you more about the School of Living community and introduce you to one of Ralph Borsodi's most devoted students... a decentralist anarchist by the name of Mildred Loomis.

To go to Part 4 of this series.

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